The greatest life hurdle in the 19th century was infancy. One in five children died before they reached the age of five including little James Clemmy. In the first 15 years at Settle graveyard, 42% of burials were for children aged five or under. Midwifery and survival rates didn’t improve until after the first World War.
It was regarded as a woman’s ‘purpose’ to procreate, as children could carry on the family business and look after their parents in old age. As so many babies died, wives were expected to ensure the family line by spending their lives giving birth and bringing up children. Of those buried in the Holy Ascension graveyard, Elizabeth Boothman had the largest family – she had 14 children and would have been pregnant for 10.5 years.
One in five women was pregnant before marriage – they had proved their fertility. Some women, like Mary Cardus and Mary Ann Hartley, may have used their pregnancy to find a husband, though not always with success.
Approximately one in 20 mothers in the graveyard died in childbirth, irrespective of class. Mary Lambert, the vicar’s wife, is an example. There is some evidence that working class mothers led more active lives and were therefore stronger and better prepared for childbirth.
After infancy, your life chances depended on your class. Money helped to provide healthcare, plenty of food and a good education. Before the introduction of the Elementary Education Act of 1870, which was the first to create compulsory education in England and Wales for children aged between five and 13, charities and ‘National Schools’ run by the church provided free places, which some children might attend between shifts at work. Some schools, including Giggleswick School, provided a few places for local children to ‘better’ themselves. John Armitstead was one such lucky lad.